Britches not burned: Classic Georgetown-based clothing store reborn in Warrenton

If you visited D.C.’s Georgetown neighborhood in the 1980s or 1990s, you probably can visualize a favorite nightclub, restaurant or record store.

And while most have faded into memory, a then-popular clothing store — Britches Great Outdoors — has come back to life 45 miles west of Wisconsin Avenue in historic Warrenton, Virginia.

Two childhood friends from Warrenton — the seat of Fauquier County — have opened a new Britches Great Outdoors store, the first in 25 years. The storefront is located on Main Street in the increasingly trendy old town neighborhood, a block or so from the new Tesla charging stations.

Britches great outdoors
Steve Sutherland and Matt Carson have opened the first Britches Great Outdoors store in 25 years, in historic Warrenton, Virginia. (Courtesy Matt Carson)

Co-owner Matt Carson said he and Steve Sutherland didn’t rely on market research in deciding to try to recapture the energy and popularity of the rakish brand that started with the single store in Georgetown in 1967, quickly growing to over 100 nationwide, before losing direction and ceasing to exist by the early 2000s.

They’re doing it because they, and other customers, remember and loved Britches.

“People have an interesting affinity and emotional connection to the brand,” Carson told WTOP.

As someone who has vivid memories of buying a white jeans jacket outfit, among other clothing, at the Britches Great Outdoors in Georgetown in the mid-1980s, Carson’s observation seems apt.

A 2019 introduction by a mutual friend to the brand’s co-founder, Rick Hindin, led to obtaining licensing rights.

In the 1980s, Wisconsin Avenue near the intersection of M Street in Northwest D.C. was an exciting, vibrant place to shop, eat, drink and dance. In the 1200 block of Wisconsin, a few doors up from Olsson’s Books and Records, was Britches of Georgetowne, and its spinoff, Britches Great Outdoors.

“Britches of Georgetowne started in 1967, selling suits, and ties and pants,” said Carson. “The owners realized there was another business, in jeans and sportswear.”

When asked to list adjectives describing the style of Britches Great Outdoors, I said I’d go first, but when I said “preppy,” he offered a tweak.

“Preppy, but preppy with an edge,” he countered. “When I was in middle school and high school, it was the kind of brand to have because it felt like it was our own brand — it wasn’t something that you saw everywhere.”

Exhibit one —  the Britches Great Outdoors Warthog logo.

Ralph Lauren and Britches started in the same year, said Carson, with Lauren selling ties to Britches’ co-founder Hindin.

“Rick decided to put the ugliest animal he could think of on a shirt, as a joke for the (Ralph Lauren) polo pony, and the alligator that was on (Lacoste) polo shirts,” said Carson, and came up with the slogan, “Only beautiful to another Warthog.”

The goal was to differentiate Britches Great Outdoors from other brands selling casual button-down shirts, polos, rugby shirts and jeans.

“When they added some funk, or their own style or flavor to (a generally conservative style), it wasn’t just for the sake of adding something.”

Back in the day, when he and Sutherland were Britches customers, in the addition to the slightly nervy fashion style, Carson said the private brand’s quality was impressive.

“You knew the instant you held that 220-weight cotton polo that it was well-made,” said Carson. “The rugby shirts were huge, because they were so well made — they had the rubber buttons.”

Carson said the two founders sold the company to a business that owned “several mall brands, including NordicTrack” and the Nature Company. But by 2002, Britches had filed for bankruptcy.

In 2020, trying to recapture the essence of a brand he loved, Carson said he hopes the new Warrenton shop and clothing line will resonate with more than one audience.

“We want to appeal to my generation — and older — the ones who really have an emotional connection to the brand,” said Carson. “And we’re also designing things for the younger generation — we have a really wild windbreaker that high school and college kids just love.”

These days, it seems rare a single clothing store would appeal to both a parent and a teen or young adult.

“That’s what we think Britches was — my dad wore it, and I wore it, back in high school,” said Carson. “We could shop at the same store.”

A search on Etsy and other online stores selling vintage clothing depicts many original Britches Great Outdoors shirts in very good condition, despite decades of laundering. Carson promises BGO 2.0 will both look good and wear well.

“Anyone can buy the rights to an old brand and resurrect the brand. For us, it’s important that this is an honest reboot. We’re working closely with Rick Hindin and some of the original team that designed and made the clothes. The durability aspect is absolutely critical, because Britches fans will sniff out a fake instantly, if it’s a just a logo play.”

As an example, Carson said after being told repeatedly that the weight and style of fabric in first-generation Britches Great Outdoors polo and rugby shirts wasn’t made anymore, they found a mill willing to “rebuild the rugby and 220-weight polos from scratch.”

Despite the duo’s fondness for the clothing they wore in the 1980s and 1990s, Carson recognizes some things have changed.

A rack of shirts — the Hybrid Un/Tuck Oxfords — are described as “designed for the modern dad bod.”

“In middle school we would wear our dad’s Oxford shirts untucked,” he laughed, acknowledging the new hybrid is designed for the many not-as-svelte-as-I-used-to-be men looking for a shirt that’s stylish, comfortable, yet not billowy.

“It can be worn tucked or untucked — it’s not too long, and not too short,” he assured.

Now, days after opening a single shopfront in a historic old town, as Warrenton works to become a “destination” with creative entrepreneurs and conveniences — like a recent drive-thru farmers market during the COVID-19 pandemic — Carson is hopeful Britches Great Outdoors will thrive, again.

“The goal is, store number one in Warrenton, we want to grow. And we want to grow it into small, historic college towns,” said Carson. “We eventually want to put another store back in Georgetown, growing store by store, following the original factors that made it great.”

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